Editorial

Israel's New State Comforter

Matanyahu Englman after being elected as state comptroller, Jerusalem, July 1, 2019.
Emil Salman

The new state comptroller, Matanyahu Englman, isn’t wasting any time. Less than a month after assuming his post, one can detect signs of an upheaval.

As reported by Gidi Weitz in Sunday’s Haaretz, Englman has returned reports drafted by the economic and defense departments in his office to their authors with a demand to include some positive statements about the agencies being audited; he has expressed his desire to abolish the unit that handles special cases and has asked senior officials in his office to conduct a dialogue with the agencies they plan to audit while preparing their annual work plans.

It seems as if the ultimate objective of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to do critical damage to the gatekeepers of Israeli democracy, is being carried out quickly and efficiently by the man who after he was appointed declared, “The comptroller does audits and is not a law enforcement official … the main challenge in this job is to create cooperation with the audited agencies.”

As Netanyahu looks on with satisfaction, Israel’s citizens ought to be concerned. The direction in which Englman is steering the state comptroller’s office is destructive: The desire to praise the audited agencies – so that they can “maintain their ability to make decisions,” has a whiff of flaccidity and spinelessness. The comptroller’s intention to stop the work of the special cases departments – which among other things dealt with the issues of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and was critical of the President’s Residence, the prosecution and the police – is liable to fatally wound one of Israel’s most important oversight mechanisms. The order to conduct dialogues with the audited agencies – which totally undermines the independence that comptrollers enjoyed until now – would certainly allow for damaging influence by the agencies on the issues to be audited.

The evolution of the destruction Netanyahu is wreaking on the oversight institutions is frightening. Since the days of Miriam Ben-Porat, the state comptroller has served as a significant gatekeeper, capable of shaking up the government. The report Ben-Porat produced on the Construction and Housing Ministry in her time gave rise to the slogan, “We’re fed up with you, corrupt ones,” and helped bring about Yitzhak Rabin’s victory in the 1992 election. Eliezer Goldberg published reports that led to investigations of Ariel Sharon and to the convictions of Omri Sharon and Tzachi Hanegbi. Micha Lindenstrauss, who dealt with Olmert and with the Harpaz affair, was the most activist of all.

By appointing Joseph Shapira, the previous comptroller, Netanyahu tried to put an end to this potential threat; he auditioned him to make sure that Shapira’s weakness would be to Netanyahu’s benefit later on. Now Englman is meant to finish the job and turn the comptroller’s office into some esoteric complaint department, in which those being audited are examined with a sympathetic eye.

Even though Englman was appointed to maintain the course Netanyahu is setting for Israel – crushing the country’s oversight mechanisms – one hopes that he will reconsider his ideas.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.